Document Type


Publication Date





Q’eqchi’ is a Mayan language spoken by 850,000 speakers in the Guatemalan departamentos (provinces) of Alta Verapaz, Izabal, El Quiche, Peten, and in the country of Belize (see Map I). About half of this area is comprised of the highlands of Alta Verapaz, while the rest is hot lowlands. The language is one of the 24 to 30 extant Mayan languages (Kaufman, 1974: 34), and belongs to the Greater K’ichean branch of Mayan languages. Greater K’ichean includes K’ichean Proper (K’iche’, Kaqchikel, Tz’utujil, Sipakapenyo, and Sakapulteko), Uspanteko, Poqomchi’, Poqomam, and Q’eqchi’. Q’eqchi’ has been a distinct language within the branch since about 300 A.D. (Kaufman, 1974: 85).

Q’eqchi’, in spite of the fact that it now occupies a geographic area larger than any other Mayan language in Guatemala, has considerably less dialect variation than others, such as K’iche’ and Mam (England, 1983: 6). Kaufman (1976: 64) notes only two dialect groups or zones, Eastern and Western, the former centered in the municipios (municipalities) of Lanquin, Chahal, Cahabon, and Senahú, while the latter covers the remaining area. The reasons for the lack of characteristic dialect variation in Q’eqchi’, in spite of its large areal spread, lie probably in two factors. First, Q’eqchi’ until about one hundred years ago occupied a much smaller area than it now occupies, comprising not even all of the territory of Alta Verapaz that it now occupies and none of the other departamentos surrounding it, which is primarily hot lowlands. The vast majority of hot lowland Q’eqchi’s today come from Cobán, Carchá, and Chamelco. These settlers began arriving in other areas when new land tenure laws promulgated by Justo Rufino Barrios, President of Guatemala from 1871 to 1885, allowed for the creation of large plantations of coffee in Alta Verapaz and effec-tively cut the Q’eqchi’s off from land used to grow their traditional corn, beans, and squash. More recently, with the coming of effective malaria control, the Q’eqchi’s have continued to search in new areas for available land (Adams, 1965: 13). Thus, all Q’eqchi’s were in much closer contact until recently, a factor which has reduced the likelihood of extensive dialect differentiation.


Art and Book Formatting by Lois Deveneau, Freelance Creative Support Services Author photograph by Juan Ignacio Stewart